Many years ago, I was talking to a friend and said “I just don’t understand people who’ve never thought about killing themselves. Not even once?” My friend knew exactly what I was talking about. Apparently we’re both pretty weird:
During 2008-2009, an estimated 8.3 million (annual average) adults aged ≥18 years in the United States (3.7% of the adult U.S. population) reported having suicidal thoughts in the past year. The prevalence of having suicidal thoughts ranged from 2.1% in Georgia to 6.8% in Utah. An estimated 2.2 million (annual average) adults in the United States (1.0% of the adult U.S. population) reported having made suicide plans in the past year. The prevalence of reports of suicide planning ranged from 0.1% in Georgia to 2.8% in Rhode Island. An estimated 1 million (annual average) adults in the United States (0.5% of the U.S. adult population) reported making a suicide attempt in the past year. The prevalence of reports of suicide attempts ranged from 0.1% in Delaware and Georgia to 1.5% in Rhode Island. The prevalence of suicidal thoughts, suicide planning, and suicide attempts was significantly higher among young adults aged 18-29 years than it was among adults aged ≥30 years. The prevalence of suicidal thoughts was significantly higher among females than it was among males, but there was no statistically significant difference for suicide planning or suicide attempts.
Rates of lifetime preference are similar in China.
It’s really easy to forget that I live in a crazy-person bubble, where I’m not sure what would be considered shocking. No psychosis going on, but personality problems to the max. My dad had a bipolar lady who wanted to bear his children. She’d call the house occasionally and hang up if my mom picked up the phone. I once stopped by his office to pick up my skateboard after school, but his last appointment had gone way overtime because someone was having a freakout and ultimately had to be sedated. I’ve known all about domestic violence and child abuse since first or second grade, just from hearing my dad talk about work. It was part of my development that I understood that authority figures could protect people who terrorize their families. I knew that wasn’t most people’s job, but only recently do I understand how abnormal that is. I explained it to a therapist and she seemed shocked. “Yeah, this one time I was in the back seat when my mom was driving my dad to work, and they were talking about this case where the daughter had somehow molested her little brother, because she’d seen some of her dad’s porn. The circumstances of how she found the porn were unclear. This other time my dad brought home a neglected kid’s shoes that were, like, disintegrating.”
Another thing that tripped me out was how unfamiliar the military is to Americans in general. The real military, not the fantasy one:
It’s a good illustration of the projection behind the “absent black fathers” stereotype. The most worshipped group of people in American culture has much worse family problems than the civilian population, and the fathers are generally absent, maybe fucking prostitutes on cruise or whatever. Or at war, causing their children to grow up understanding the reality of death in a way that alienates them from the civilian population. It resembles your dad being in prison, I’d say.
Anyway, I found a pair of videos that illustrates one path to suicide very well. It’s worth the hour:
The first video is a detailed description of someone’s highly abusive/neglectful childhood. The second is the same person at a low point in their adult life, in the middle of the kind of self-hatred and isolation that I think precedes suicide. What if she was in that state and something else went really wrong? What if her girlfriend came home angry and yelling, and broke up with her? What if she was drunk?
If someone is really interested in understanding, listening to this person’s story is all you should really need to do. Understanding on an emotional level is different than understanding intellectually. By now, I think everyone has seen depression checklists: guilt, shame, sadness, isolation. People interested in psychology know some jargon: splitting, covert narcissism, dissociation, flat affect. The terminology does nothing to convey what those things feel like. Or they do, and people don’t allow themselves to empathize. At any rate, they don’t empathize.
Normal people don’t understand the hardship they create for people with their mandatory positivity. They’re asking someone who’s suffered greatly to solve difficult theological or existential problems, as a precondition for human connection. Everyone extrapolates from their own experience. “I have high self-esteem, why don’t they have high self-esteem?” What’s missing is insight into where that self-esteem comes from. Normal people haven’t generally gone on some kind of deep introspective journey to find their True Self. They feel good about themselves because people praise them, and praised them in the past. The right to exist is taken for granted.
What if your parents, in fact, hate you, neglect you, and terrorize you? What if they tell you that they regret not having had an abortion? What if your father abuses you for years and your mother doesn’t lift a finger to protect you? Why do you exist if you’re rejected by your own parents, harshly and consistently?
When something is taken from a person, they generally get angry. The whole part of the South that’s proud of itself is angry for having its slaves taken away. We react to thieves with vengeance. How much was taken from this woman? What’s the value of something like “receiving love in childhood, at all?”
She overcomes these things, which were very difficult, and tries to make something of herself. Her reward is that she’s “too negative” and therefore shunned by everybody. It never ends. The sad thing is that she knows she’s too much, too dark, too overwhelming, too angry for everyone. It’s perceptible by strangers even when she’s trying very hard to be calm and reasonable. But what is she angry about?
She admits that there’s a lot of projected self-hatred involved, but what the external thing she complained about was the mindlessness of people. That’s exactly it. All the little ways that people are self-absorbed and signal that you’re beneath consideration. Traffic. Noise. People standing in everybody’s way and having a conversation. It’s everywhere. It’s so enraging because you’ve been told you’re a nonperson so many times, and people are so rude. You can’t even talk to them about it, because it was something they did when they weren’t thinking. It requires a significant shift in mindset to be more considerate. Her own spaciness makes her thoughtless and out of it, but that comes from all the trauma. Notice the distorted time perception, where she says half an hour felt like 5 minutes had elapsed. So deep in rumination it’s like a trance.
Then she’s frustrated by less ambitious people. That is, she’s frustrated by people who’ve surely had fewer obstacles, that are unwilling to do things that she does herself. But she can’t feel unconflicted pride, because the slightest hint of arrogance will make everyone dislike her even more.
She’s actually very empathetic and thoughtful. She hates herself for being driven crazy by a constantly-shouting mentally disabled person, and knows the hate she feels is like what’s directed at her and making her feel so alone. By the Golden Rule, she’s guilty of something she knows is awful, even though it’s involuntary. The constant stress of that, itself, reduces her chances of seeming approachable.
There’s the simple fact of the isolation. She made a 30-minute video because there was nobody in the whole world for her in that moment, and a lot of moments like it. There is something cosmically unfair about it, and how could you not be angry at the universe? Suppressing the emotion is exhausting and turns you into a robot, which nobody likes, either. The numbness is a kind of living death.
I don’t think any of this is hard to understand. If someone won the birth lottery, they can almost-but-not-quite pretend that the universe doesn’t do this to people for no reason. There’s a false sense of security that they’d have to give up if they allowed themselves to understand.
This is also the reason why existential problems are part of complex PTSD. If you really put yourself in her shoes, hearing something like “it’s all part of God’s plan” would sound as empty as it is.
And yet we don’t kill ourselves most of the time. Instead, there’s a meaning-of-life quest or a shoot-heroin-all-day quest. Both of which normal people also claim not to understand.
Sometimes, the mentally ill are grouchy because people around them are giving them a hard time for not being naive enough.
It also doesn’t help that everyone is trained to call 911 if someone says “suicide” out loud in conversation. This is an actual official suicide warning sign: “Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide, when these actions are out of the ordinary.” I think that’s stupid. The correct answer is to listen to your friend, not to act like they just turned into a beast and you’re calling the authorities to lock them up. They already feel subhuman. It’s the kind of advice that only a lawyer could come up with.